Of all of the news leading up to the Dec. 18 premiere of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, one of the most important issues to many of us fans is the ongoing saga of BB-8’s gender. BB-8, a round, soccer-ball resembling droid, is said to play a pivotal role in the upcoming film, and toy versions of the robot are already flying off the shelves. But while many may be quick to ignore the importance of gender in the Star Wars droid universe, plenty of women are excited at the prospect of one of the newest robots in the series potentially being female.
Of course, if your first response to the prospect of BB-8 being female is to question whether or not robots can have a gender, you’re not alone. Yet while in real life, robots are machines and therefore can't be male or female, a mere glimpse back at the other Star Wars films would prove that assumption wrong. Are R2-D2 and C-3PO not considered male droids? Does C-3PO not refer to R2 as “he”? Does C-3PO not have male physiology and a male voice? If male droids can exists, so can female ones, and so the question of BB-8's gender is a legitimate one.
Yet for this, there's no clear answer. First, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy referred to the droid as “she,” and, according to zap2it, reports from the set have said, “most of the crew referred to BB-8 using female gender designations.” But then came a bit of confusion from Neal Scanlon, the head of the creature shop for The Force Awakens, who said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that “I’m still not sure, dare I say, whether BB-8 is male or female. BB-8 was female in our eyes. And then she became male. And that’s all part of the evolution, not only visually, but in the way they move, how they hold themselves.” And then, in an interview with Wired, J.J. Abrams also referred to the droid as a "he," although it was sort of in passing.
But then The Telegraph reported further confirmation that BB-8 is indeed female, saying that a source on set told them that, “BB-8 is definitely ‘a she’ – and that the decision to make her female was due to the desire to appeal to female Star Wars toy-buyers. Said the source, "There’s never been a strong female robot in any Star Wars film… J.J. [Abrams] was determined to make BB-8 cute and strong – and female. They want to appeal to girls as much boys, who have traditionally been the fan base. She’s going to be one of the breakout hits of the film.’”
At this point, there's still no definitive answer as to whether BB-8 is male or female, but discarding the conversation isn’t the way to go, either. It may seem like the gender of a tiny robot in a sci-fi movie might be inconsequential, but I assure you, it matters. In a time when female movie fans are often disregarded, female buying power is undervalued, and female representation in film at a dismal state, making one of the most prominent characters in one of the biggest upcoming movies a "she" is incredibly important. It's not that The Force Awakens is lacking in women — the movie already has a female lead character, a female storm trooper, and a female alien pirate. But adding in a female robot would simply be rounding out the cast, and as women make up 50% of this universe, why shouldn't we do the same in the Star Wars universe, as well?
In making BB-8 female, Abrams and Disney have the power to not only make a statement about equality in the Star Wars franchise, but also to say to the legions of male fans out there that female characters are just as worthy of your time — whether they're human or droid.